Soon after I was violated by an adult “posing” as a family member, I started thinking about ways to protect myself. I was too afraid to tell what really happened to me, so I knew I had to come up with my own ideas for keeping me safe. My body started “sprouting” womanly features at a very early age. I was what some folks would call big boned or thick.
By the time I was eleven, when the abuse took place, I was no longer wearing a training bra, but instead, I was wearing at least a B or C cup. So I knew my first task was to change my body. Nerd that I was, I decided I would “research” how to lose my excess body fat so that I could look more like an eleven year old. I went to the library and checked out diet and exercise books and I then tried to embark on a healthy path towards losing weight…not easy when your dad is an ex-Navy chef. Daddy was always cooking amazing foods, and I was always a sucker for his barbecue ribs, coleslaw, chicken and dressing, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, and the list goes on and on and on. At first, I allowed myself all the water I could drink, six or seven crackers for breakfast and lunch, and at dinner, I would eat whatever daddy cooked. Well, not so smart because by dinner time, I was ravenous. I ate everything in sight, and daddy, the quintessential southern gentleman, thought it awesome that his biggest fan loved his cooking so much that she ate seconds, thirds, and sometimes, fourths of whatever he cooked. Little did he know that I was dying inside, knowing that every bite I took added more temptation to my hips, thighs, breast and backside. Then, I discovered purging.
My discovery of purging actually happened by accident really. At this point in my life, there were no stories about Anorexia or Bulimia, so I didn’t have a name for what I was doing. The Karen Carpenter story had not been revealed, so for all I knew, I was inventing a new way to cope with food. The beginning of my food phobias and addictions began one night when I ate way too much, and within an hour, I was violently sick. I don’t know if it was in that moment or later on that I developed the “bright idea” to continue purging after every meal, but either way, that became my way of dealing with my desire to eat and my desire to get smaller so my body wouldn’t be attractive to anyone, particularly lecherous old men who messed with little girls. During high school, my weight fluctuated. There was a time when I was as low as 110 and as high as 135. No one ever knew my pain because I kept that part of my life secret. Just like the abuse. The weight of the things I carried just kept getting heavier and heavier.
I continued this behavior for several decades –throughout all of my twenties and half of my thirties. When I met my husband, I was down to about 110-112 pounds (not a healthy weight for someone who was 5'5"). Pictures of me at that time are extremely scary. I looked sick, and I was. I rarely ate, and when I did, I picked at my food. My husband is an amazing cook, so I would make sure I ate but I chewed my food for so long that no one really noticed that I barely consumed anything. I began to rely on booze to help me deal with my demons. I was functioning, but just barely. I held down a job. I mothered my boys as best I could. I tried to be a good wife. But inside, I was dying. And to add insult to injury, I felt like the worse black woman ever. I mean, weren’t we the divas who celebrated our hips and thighs? At that time, white women were beginning to get butt surgeries and breast augmentations to add on the very parts that I despised when they were on my body. I hated the catcalls. I hated the dudes who “stepped to me” and said things like, “Them thighs are looking hot, mama.” Their words alone, made me feel violated. But I hated that I felt that way. I wanted to be the upbeat chick who had a quick comeback. The chick who celebrated their words instead of feared them.
I grew up with Queen Latifah singing about our beauty and talent and our need for self-respect. I had a daddy who always, always said I was smart and beautiful. My husband, Robert, told me every day that I was the most beautiful woman in the world, but for some reason, their words didn't compute. I felt like a freak. An anomaly. The more I tried to stop my destructive behavior the more I found myself binging and purging. I got to a point where I would only eat foods of a certain color and each food had to be organized on my plate in a certain way. At that time, I gave up meat completely. It didn’t fit in my color scheme. Then I went vegan. I wanted no animal byproducts in my system at all. Now I am back to being vegetarian with the occasional fish.
The good news – I have stopped binging and purging. I am working on my diet and exercise, but it isn’t easy. My years of abusing diet pills and laxatives have cost me a lot physically. My metabolism is shot. But I am not giving up. I am healing. Hopefully, this post will help others. Hopefully someone out there who reads this post will realize that they are not alone and those of us who did survive are all in this recovery thing with them. That is my hope and prayer.
IF YOU HAVE AN EATING DISORDER, OR YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO DOES, PLEASE CONTACT THE NATIONAL EATING DISORDER ASSOCIATION BY CLICKING HERE.